By April 10 of this year, the Pirates were 1-5 and I was supremely pissed off.
In 2012, the team had gone from playoff contender to big loser, continuing its record streak of losing seasons, and I felt like I needed to do something about it. So I did what any good fan with access to a weekly newspaper would do — I wrote a scathing article describing how the Pirates will never see success as long as Bob Nutting and his family are leading this franchise. I felt like I was in a position to speak about their business prowess, since I worked for several years at one of their newspapers.
I questioned their bottom-line approach to player acquisition and the moves they made at the 2012 trade deadline. Basically I wrote: "I'm not a fan of how the Nuttings do business ― any business."
So here we are in mid-September, and the Pirates are competing for a slot in the postseason and possibly a division title. There was no massive collapse — though recently the team lost three straight games to the craptastic San Diego Padres and fell behind in the race for the division crown. Still, the Pirates ended their 20-year losing streak and appear to be a team on the rise.
That puts writers like me in a tough spot. I made an argument in April that the Pirates would never find success under the Nuttings. But unless the ghost of John W. Galbreath — the team owner who was responsible for three World Series titles — is in there calling the shots, I was wrong.
I'm not the only writer in town in this situation. Were we wrong for our criticisms? Do we apologize? I put the question to one of my peers. Dejan Kovacevic is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and has been writing about the club and its lows for years. You may remember him from such columns as "Pirates clueless about winning." The article discussed the changes the Pirates had made, but which inexplicably left them still unable to win. In that piece, Kovacevic simply asks: "How are they still losers?"
Kovacevic says he doesn't ride the Pirates simply for fun. "I was consistent in praising the plan for five years," he explains. "What I panned was the execution for five years. That doesn't change. History gets made. It doesn't get rewritten.
"This management team, to its considerable credit, just had the offseason of a lifetime in acquiring both Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin, plus Mark Melancon, through the well-timed, well-executed Joel Hanrahan trade. Fantastic stuff. But again, it doesn't erase what came before."
That's true. In April, when I wrote that the Pirates were heading toward the cellar once again, I did have some compelling evidence, although I will allow that the season was just six days old. But that was after last season's mega-collapse and the decision by Bob Nutting to stay the course, instead of making wholesale organizational changes that were championed by fans and the media.
Now, do I admit that I was wrong, or do I take the position that it's only one good season after two decades of bad ones? How do we know whether the team's actually fixed for good? Should the Nuttings and their upper management, including President Frank Coonelly, get a pass for one incredible year?
We posed that question to Coonelly himself.
"Ownership provided the investment for what you're seeing on the field today," Coonelly said. "We've spent more money than any major-league club during my first five years here in the amateur draft, [and] that was all a strategic decision that ownership endorsed. In each of the last three years, ownership has approved us, not only increasing our payroll significantly from the year before as we moved through our budgeting process, but in each of those three years — at and around the trade deadline — approved additional payroll flexibility to go up and over the budget to acquire players that would hopefully give us an opportunity to play deep into the postseason.
"While ownership will typically take the brunt of the blame when things don't go well ... Bob Nutting certainly deserves a lot of credit for what's been built here and for having the patience to allow this process to reach this point."
That's certainly a valid point, Mr. Coonelly. But what remains to be seen is, on what point are we sitting? Are we the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who righted the ship, won the World Series and have been serious contenders ever since? Or are we the Florida Marlins, who followed up their 1997 World Series victory by winning 54 games in 1998 and, excepting a 2003 World Series win, have been pretty lousy since?
If we are like the Red Sox, sitting at a place that will lead this team to success for the next several years, then I'm willing and pleased to apologize for being wrong. But what if all of this is an aberration? What if the first winning season in 20 years is nothing but a respite from our two decades of pain and anguish? What if we are the Florida Marlins?
In that case, I'll refuse to apologize. But I'll be the first in line to say thank you for this winning season.
Alex Zimmerman contributed to this report